Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
K and I have always talked about doing a cruise at some point in our lives. The main problem is that it really isn’t the type of holiday that suits us (me mainly!) – the idea of gambling and drinking in international waters isn’t quite enough of a lure for me. Combined with that, I also tend to get horrible motion-sickness so spending multiple days cooped up on a rocking boat isn’t an ideal scenario.
Still we decided to book ourselves on an overnight cruise with Viking Line from Stockholm to Helsinki, figuring that a short fourteen-hour cruise would be a good way to decide if a longer cruise in the future would be suitable. Having done it though, I don’t see us cruising any time soon – we spent part of the night with immense headaches and nausea as the ship rolled through turbulent waters, and the jangling and ringing of the poker machines on board weren’t particularly appealing either. Oh well. At least the cabin was surprisingly clean and well-maintained?
The most important thing is that the cruise took us to Helsinki, a hip and trendy little city that’s quite uniquely its own. With both Scandinavian and Russian influences, relics of a time when Finland was merely a vassal state for both Sweden and Russia, the main buildings and attractions of the city has a certain charm. ‘New’ Finnish architecture is particularly interesting as architects have sought to establish a firm national identity over the past century – buildings like the Church in the Rock, the Kamppi Chapel, and Alvar Aalto’s Sugarcube are incredibly unique and a distinguishing point for the city.
Innovative design plays a large part in Helsinki. Marimekko, arguably the largest Finnish design brand worldwide, has a large presence in the city with some notable storefronts. I also enjoyed browsing through the Iittala store, and needless to say as a designer, K was in his absolute element when browsing through these stores.
We had some nice meals out including the most amazing burgers at Roslund and a Sunday brunch at the historic Karl Fazer Cafe with my friend Hanna. We ate a fair number of delicious Karelian pastries as well, a Finnish specialty! Taking advantage of the wonderful Christmas markets in Senate Square, we tried food featuring reindeer meat (when in Finland…) from a few different stalls. The reindeer sausage was quite tasty thanks to the addition of eleven assorted herbs and spices, but our attempt to try ‘fusion food’ with a reindeer meat ramen was a terrible decision. One bite of the ramen was all we could stomach before we threw it out – I can’t even explain how terrible it tasted. We won’t be rushing back for reindeer meat any time soon!
One of the real highlights of our stay in Helsinki was the fact that we were there for St Lucia’s Day. This saint’s day is celebrated in Scandinavia with the St Lucia’s Parade, where one lucky girl is chosen to represent St Lucia with her white robes and a crown of candles. In Helsinki, St Lucia is crowned at twilight in the Cathedral before descending the stairs of Senate Square, waving to the thousands of people gathered to see her, and joining a procession of Christmas-themed carriages down the main shopping street. I’m glad that we were there to experience it, as it’s not something we would celebrate in Australia!
Helsinki’s a gorgeous city, and there’s lots more that the city offers that we didn’t get time to do. Three and a half days was certainly not enough, however visa restrictions meant that we had to leave Scandinavia by the 14th of December and move onto a non-Schengen country – Russia! More to come on that soon.